Social dance basics: The gentleman scholar takes a dancing lesson (video).

The Gentleman Scholar Learns How to Dance (Video)

The Gentleman Scholar Learns How to Dance (Video)

Answers for modern men.
Oct. 8 2014 1:51 PM

“Diagrams to Direct the Feet”

An introduction to the gentlemanly art of social dance.

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Here we have a short film designed as a primer in social dance. We owe profuse thanks to our terpsichorean tutor, Ms. Esther Frances of the Arthur Murray Dance Center on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. How did we choose Arthur Murray? How could we not? There are two major dance-studio franchises in the U.S., one named for the absurdly perfect dancer born Frederick Austerlitz, the other for the former Moses Teichmann, who democratized social dancing with his “magic step” mail-order lessons.

A draftsman by trade, Arthur Murray left a footprint on the culture with his “diagrams to direct the feet”—a nifty innovation marketed, in line with a venerable American tradition, by promising physical suavity as a gateway to social and spiritual perfection. This 1923 ad is typical of the pitch: “[G]ood dancers always have perfect mental and physical control, ease of manner, poise, are never embarrassed, shy, or timid.” And, well, I am not a good dancer. Nor, perhaps, is this video’s ideal viewer, whom I imagine as a fellow eager to get two left feet wet. The actual viewer, meanwhile, will join the Gentleman Scholar in feeling moderately mortified by the whole thing. (Dance: 5; Looks: 3.)

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.